Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Week 16: The End of a Journey

By Rebecca Spiro & Molly Hetzner

During our last week in Cape Town, we were given the opportunity to reflect on the themes that we have encountered throughout the semester. Returning back to South Africa, we were expecting a similar experience to our previous stay in Johannesburg, but we quickly realized this would be very different. Not only are Cape Town and Jo’burg extremely different cities, but we also realized how different our perspectives are after spending three months in Windhoek. The themes we’ve encountered throughout this semester have focused on the past—gaining a historical background of Southern Africa and apartheid, and the present—studying the economic, social, and racial factors that make up the political climate of the region today. In addition, our studies and our experiences have led to dialogue about the future and the keys to developing the region and breaking down a lot of these barriers. Much of what we’ve seen and heard in Cape Town directly reflects the ideas we’ve been thinking about, emphasizing the past, present, and future of Southern Africa’s definitions of freedom.

Lulamile Zozo Madolo, a former political prisoner on Robben Island,
gives us a tour of the prison and speaks about the harsh treatment he
and other prisoners received.
South Africa has made tremendous strides since the peak of apartheid in becoming freer for all its citizens, and that definitely came across in listening to some of our speakers about their part in the struggle for freedom. Our first day in Cape Town we visited Robben Island, the island that housed many political prisoners during apartheid such as Nelson Mandela and our own tour guide, Lulamile Zozo Madolo [1]. He talked about what brings people together, and how important that was during a time of such division. One example he gave was how meaningful it was to have Namibian and South African prisoners playing football together on Saturdays. Seeing the jail cells where the prisoners were held and hearing about the food and treatment they received from their jailers really brought home how unjust the apartheid regime was. It was nice to see what tourists generally see, but it gave us all an eerie feeling of showiness. We missed the deeper and more personal outlook we have been so lucky to receive this semester from people we’ve interacted with in Windhoek, whether it be speakers, professors, or acquaintances. He used the “we are free” mantra a lot and emphasized that now, under the constitution, there are “no more Bantus, no more coloureds, all are equal before the law,” even though we’ve seen numerous instances of injustice and inequality still playing out today.

Noor Ebrahim, a founding member of the District 6 Museum,
lets Cole read a passage from his book about being evacuated from
District 6 under apartheid and his attempts to return home.
Today the term “freedom” is used very loosely. Not only does the word have multiple meanings, but when considered in a comprehensive way, it can hold tremendous power. Although the South African Constitution may be one of the most progressive in the world, it is evident that in the present day, some South Africans benefit from its freedoms more than others. Blacks and coloureds are still held back by various barriers, namely physical and economic. At the District 6 Museum, Noor Ebrahim spoke to us about his own experience with physical barriers left from apartheid [2]. He and his family—the biggest family in District 6—were kicked out of their home into a coloured township. District 6 was the city center that was so mixed ethnically and religiously that the apartheid government saw the need to clear it out. The apartheid regime designed cities strategically, and Cape Town had the ideal geography to implement this control. The black and coloured townships are still overwhelmingly inhabited by those races and characterized by higher crime rates and poorer living conditions than in the white areas. Cape Town remains even more segregated than Johannesburg today. In addition to these physical barriers, Lucy Campbell, a Cape Town tour guide who specializes in Cape Slavery, brought up the relevance of economic barriers [3]. We watched a three minute introductory film at the Slave Lodge Museum that ended with a sentiment about how South Africa had reached freedom, and she interjected that we can only find peace and justice if we have economic freedom as well. This reflects the realities of the historical oppression that has put the majority of money and power in white pockets currently, and prohibits the majority of the population from reaping the benefits of a free nation.

One of the keys to finding true freedom for citizens in any region is community-based empowerment, and we’ve encountered that both in Namibia and South Africa. Inherent in this form of empowerment is not only the freedom from physical and economic barriers but also the freedom to reach one’s own potential. In Cape Town, we visited two different churches that are focused on community empowerment. The Way of Life Church is located in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest black township, with many of its inhabitants living in informal shelters. Zimkitha Zilo, an active member of the church, spoke to us about their multiple endeavors in black consciousness and its role in community empowerment [4]. The church has been acting as a community resource center during the week for two years, providing community organizations from after-school programs to political parties to meet there. They also run a Welcome to Hell March in aims of alerting the government of the poor conditions of the townships and asking the question of what freedom really is. In addition, she explained that their Pastor Xola Skosana makes a point of challenging political and social realities in his sermonizing. Another church, the Central Methodist Mission Church, is located near the city center and was historically made up of coloured people previously from District 6. Today, it is a diverse congregation, but the majority does not live nearby and therefore seem disconnected from the streets. Minister Alan Storey asks, “How do we be a city church for the city?” and tries to connect to the community in various ways [5]. They created Heaven Coffee, a coffeeshop in their lobby that donates all proceeds to the vulnerable of Cape Town and provides free refreshments for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly. Along with community support, Storey has made it a priority to look inwards and deal with his own privilege and powerful position as an educated white man in Cape Town. 

CGE students (left to right: Caleb, Cole, Melissa, Sarah, Jenna, Amanda),
enjoying the coast of Cape Town on our last week in Southern Africa.
This message is inspiring to us because as we prepare to go back to the States we know that to bring these issues home, we have to deal with our privilege along with them. Forms and evidence of oppression will look different in the context of our respective communities, but definitions of freedom, community empowerment, and self-reflection will be continually more important as we fight for social justice and in our transitions back to being home. The historical legacies and the current prevalence of injustice will fuel our ability to advocate for equality in our own communities.

[1] Lulamile Zozo Madolo. Former political prisoner and current tour guide at Robben Island. 1st December 2013.

[2] Noor Ebrahim. Author and founding member of the District 6 Museum. 2nd December 2013.

[3] Lucy Campbell. Cape Town tour guide and slavery expert. 3rd December 2013.

[4] Zimkitha Zilo. Member and administrator at Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha. 2nd December 2013.

[5] Alan Storey. Minister of Central Methodist Mission Church. 3rd December 2013.

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